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Placebo power: Depressed people who respond to fake drugs get the most help from real ones, U-M study finds


Sep. 30, 2015 University of Michigan Depression Center

When it comes to treating depression, how well a person responds to a fake medicine may determine how well they’ll respond to a real one, new research finds.

Those who can muster their brain’s own chemical forces against depression, it appears, have a head start in overcoming its symptoms with help from a medication. But those whose brain chemistry doesn’t react as much to a fake medicine, or placebo, struggle even after getting an active drug.

The findings, published in JAMA Psychiatry and made at the University of Michigan Medical School, help explain the variation in treatment response and resiliency that bedevils depression patients and their care teams.

The discovery also opens up the door to new research on how to amplify the brain’s natural response in new ways — to improve depression treatment for the estimated 350 million people worldwide who have depression at any given time.

The findings could also help those developing and testing new drugs, helping them correct for the placebo effect that gets in the way of measuring a drug’s true effect.

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